Monday, 7 December 2009

Bill Malley comments on proposed new CIS Tournament Format

Bill Malley is a long-time passionate supporter and considered observer of CIS men's basketball and it is very clear that he has thought through the issue of a new format for the men's post season tournament. Earlier today, he sent this note to myself and Dale Stevens of the Canadian University Basketball Discussion List (CUBDL - see right side of this site with instructions on how to subscribe to Dale's popular and informative discussion list). Bill's note below offers another set of opinions around how the tournament should be set up and hopefully will add positively to the discussion.


On the weekend, Mark Wacyk posted an update about the possibility of an expanded CIS tournament being considered and possibly voted on at the CIS AGM in June, 2010. The format was floated earlier this year and includes three regional tournaments to help flesh out a final-eight event, which would include four association winners and a host.

I made a couple of postings at the time, pointing out the serious flaws in the proposed format, in the hope that the NABCC would come back with a more workable and fair model. Unfortunately that did not happen.

As a long-time contributor to CIS basketball in various roles, I will again address this issue of expanding the tournament and endeavour to explain why the proposal in its current state is doomed to fail, and not only fail, but damage CIS men’s basketball as a marketable property.

If the goal is to increase the number of teams that have an “opportunity” to play for the national championship, the proposed format will accomplish that. However, what are league playoffs, if not an opportunity to play for the national championship? This proposal will make league playoffs redundant and risk damaging the inherent fan interest that league playoffs generate.

I cannot understand why any coach in CWUAA or OUA would support this proposed format. Currently each of those conferences gets two guaranteed spots at the final eight, and this proposal would see that reduced to one for the association champion. As a veteran OUA West supporter, I have never deemed the two conferences in Ontario as being one entity. While I understand that the OUA is the umbrella organization that administers both, I have always viewed them as separate. I can’t stress strongly enough that to remove the guaranteed berth at the nationals for either conference is to totally devalue their conference schedules. The thought that a team in either conference could win their section, lose in the Wilson Cup and then lose in a regional, meaning an entire conference would not be represented at the national tournament is, in my opinion, not the best way to promote the sport on a broad scale.

The same possibility exists in Western Canada, where for example the possibility could exist that, other than the league champion, there would be no representation at the nationals west of the Saskatchewan border.

The host berth is also a major flaw in the proposed format, although I understand that having a host guarantees some degree of draw and local interest. But let’s explore the possibilities: if AUS is the hosting conference, the event would include the AUS champion, the host team (presumably the AUS finalist) and then for 2 out of every 3 years, the AUS would also host a regional, giving homecourt advantage to include yet another AUS team. If the local team won the regional, there would be three AUS teams in an eight-team tournament. I can’t be the only person who sees the problem with this.

Another issue I have is the determination of “Association” champions being equal. How can anyone view OUA (16 teams) or CWUAA (14 teams & possibly more pending) in comparison with QSSF (5 teams) and say they deserve the same number of teams.

Under the current proposal, where would these regionals be held? Would they be in pre-determined locations to allow for maximum marketing time available? Would they be in arena venues or at campus locations? The conference assignments have been made without any information about actual site possibilities. For purposes of travel planning, the sites have to be pre-determined for several reasons, such as: controlling costs by being able to pre-book flights, maximizing regional marketing by pre-sale of tickets and block booking of hotel rooms, media and promotion of the event for weeks leading up to it.

This proposal seems as ill-conceived as the recent 10-team experiment that was attempted for two years, and then quickly abandoned. If the goal is to create a tournament format that allows for more teams to participate, there must be better alternatives to consider. As someone with both sports marketing and event organization experience, I believe there are just too many questions without answers to make this a worthwhile enterprise.

I made an alternate proposal months ago and will bring it forward again in the hope that it can serve as an example of something better to consider. There may be other possible formats that should be proposed, but I like mine for reasons of functionality, fairness, and cost-effectiveness.

There are currently six conferences in play in CIS men’s basketball: AUS, QSSF, OUA East, OUA West, Canada West Prairie, Canada West Pacific

The winner of each conference through its playoffs would receive an automatic bid to the CIS Final-Eight, putting six teams into the tournament and ensuring that each conference is represented. This would also ensure that the integrity of the conference schedule is maintained and post-season play would stay meaningful, since the teams have something to play for.

There would be three CIS sites determined through a bidding process. One in eastern Canada, one in Central Canada, and one in western Canada. Among these three sites, a rotation schedule would be established so that the final eight would be held at one, while the other two hosted regionals. If AUS hosts the Final-eight, then OUA/QSSF and CWUAA would host regionals, with the rotation moving the next year. This would ensure that the administrative structure would be maintained annually and every site would get to host the Final-Eight at some point, guaranteeing equity. The rotation cycle would be three or six years, based on commitments from the bidding sites. In the interest of neutrality and to support marketability and television coverage, I would recommend arena venues if possible.

After the six conference winners have been determined, the six conference finalists and two wildcard selections (criteria to be established in advance) would be re-seeded and assigned to the two regional sites, with the winners completing the field for the Final-Eight. As a potential television property, having two regionals could be presented in a very appealing manner by having semi-final doubleheaders played on Thursday and Friday, advancing to regional finals on Saturday and Sunday, mirroring regional finals in the NCAA tournament.

There were other numerous variables that the current proposal fails to address, including providing officials at each regional to ensure neutrality, travel bookings and costs and scheduling. Unless the regional sites are pre-determined, the potential for conflicts with other events will exist at venues both on campus and off.

If the goal is to ensure that the best eight teams are competing in the Final-Eight, it is difficult to argue that six conference champions and two play-in teams that emerge from among league finalists and two other highly ranked teams would not represent the strongest field. It eliminates the problematic host berth by ensuring that a local presence is in attendance at both regionals and the Final-Eight, while guaranteeing fair and equitable conference representation. For example, if Copps Coliseum in Hamilton were designated as a regional site, even without McMaster participating, there would be reasonable attendance expectations from no less than nine OUA schools that are less than 2 hours away. Of course, having a pre-determined sites would allow for an integrated marketing approach that would include significant advance-sale tactics to build the fan base weeks before the actual event.

The idea of two regionals rather than three achieves several benefits including: lower costs associated with travel and accommodation, stronger potential to build sponsor partnerships and associated marketing plans and initiatives, better packaging as a television property, more synergy with on-going season long marketing and promotions and a consistently higher profile in every CIS market over a longer period.

There are other benefits such as lower costs increasing profitability, competitive advantage being better managed, less impact on academic requirements for student athletes. And again I cannot stress strongly enough that the integrity of each conference’s own schedule and importance of their respective playoffs would be maintained. As a fan of OUA West, I would not be happy to see a Final-Eight that did not include a rep from my home conference.

Sorry for the length, but I was disappointed to see that the NABCC was moving forward with its original proposal despite the huge gaps in logistics and philosophy. I wouldn’t ever try to tell a CIS coach how to defend the fast break or attack a zone, but maybe the coaches should stick to what they are good at, which is coaching their teams. I think they are entitled to spend some time developing some priorities about where they would like their game to go. Then they should allow sports marketers and event managers to devise the best way to achieve those objectives.

The current proposal is a bad one, and while there will be a hue and cry about how expanding the tournament is what everyone wants, to implement a bad system/format will do more harm than good. I don’t think anyone wants that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree pretty much with most of the objections that Mr. Malley raised in his well reasoned article.
My question is who is pushing for this and what are their true motivations for having this format implemented?
I can't for the life of me see someone like Dave Smart or most other OUA coaches going for this.
My major objection among many is that this proposal needlessly prolongs an already too long season.
The CIS men's basketball season begins in October and ends in mid March for the national contenders.
That's five and a half months.
Even with a month long exam/holiday break, today's CIS teams play an awful lot of ball.
The OUA plays a 22 game schedule.
When I attended university back in the early 80's, teams played typically a 12 game schedule, so obviously the schedules have increased dramatically over the years.
And this doesn't take into account post season games and non conference tournaments which could easily add up to 10 or more games per season.
It is not unusual to see some teams play well over 30-35 games a year.
Last year, Carleton played 37 CIS games and a whopping 44 overall.
Ottawa U was right behind, playing 43.
I think the current method of alloting berths is fair and equitable.
Two berths each for the AUS, OUA and CW, with one going to the Q.
The remaining wildcard berth could be determined by a tournament, rather than a selection committee.
However, a 12 team tournament is not the answer.
The four top ranked teams in the country eliminated in conference playoffs would meet in a three game, two day tournament at the home of the highest ranked team.
And the winner of that tournament would not necessarily be seeded #8 at nationals.
That, as far as I'm concerned is the fairest way to award these berths.